Can I publish transcripts of interviews from my podcast?
October 13, 2009 10:24 AM   Subscribe

Would I run into legal problems if I published print versions of transcripts from the interviews done for my podcast?

Hello, I know YANML. Actually I am a lawyer and this is not my area of expertise at all, actually I've come up with nothing trying to figure this out. Hopefully someone out there knows something that can point me in the right direction.

I am in the US.

I am the co-host of an arts related interview podcast. We have recorded many audio interviews which were then edited and posted online. All of our guests have been willing participants. We did not have any sort of release prepared, nor do we have anything from the guests in writing.

We are thinking of compiling the transcripts of these interviews in to a website archive and possibly a book. I can't see any reason a lack of a release from the interviewees is problematic, but that worries me, as that little nagging itch says, weeelllll maybe.

We would send an email to the guest and let them know we were doing this, but we do not intend to quash this material if asked.

I know numerous books of radio interviews have been published over the years, Terry Gross etc. and I can't imagine that all of the interviewees would have wanted their transcripts published.

So, if anyone knows what the state of the law is on this I'd appreciate the info.

posted by Ponderance to Law & Government (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There's a pretty good summary here. There isn't a well-established standard, it seems, so in the absence of a legal agreement made beforehand, you're probably better off obtaining permission from the interviewees before publishing.
posted by cerebus19 at 12:38 PM on October 13, 2009

Best answer: IANAL. I am a programmer who has to deal with copyright on a near-daily basis.

cerebus' link is mainly about interviews done on background for other works: an author's or reporter's interviews, which are then quoted or paraphrased for the final work. Toward the middle, however, it does discuss a recorded interview:
Although the interviewer may not be the copyright owner of the interviewee's quotations, at a minimum the interviewer would be the copyright owner of the compilation, which includes the interviewee's quotations and interviewer's questions, comments and paraphrasing. In these cases the courts' decisions were in part based upon the (1) consent of the interviewee, (2) recreation by the interviewer of the conversation with the interviewee and (3) interviewer's ultimate control over the organization of the final work. The Taggert court also stated that the interviewee's responses during the interview were not "expression" that could be protected by copyright law but instead were only unprotected "ideas"; a fundamental principle of copyright law is that it does not provide copyright protection for ideas. The above-stated rationale provided sufficient weight for the position that an interview becomes the "literary expression" and property of the interviewer.
The key point here is that speech does not qualify for copyright. If we meet on the street, you ask me a question, and I speak a response, I have no ability to claim copyright on what I said. Speech is neither a fixed nor a tangible medium of expression. It is inherently unfixed and intangible.

However, your podcast is a "fixed form" of work. You have made a sound recording (with consent) of the interviewee answering your questions. Just as CBS and NBC can both hold copyright on the footage they film of a press conference, and just as a photographer (not the subject) holds copyright on a portrait, you hold copyright on that audio recording of your subject. You already hold copyright on it, or you couldn't distribute the podcast in the first place.

Since you already hold copyright, you already have the right to make a derivative work. In your case, the derivative work would be the transcript.

Basically, it's my understanding that without an explicit agreement to the contrary, you may publish a transcript of your interview. It's already yours. Do what thou wilt.

However, if it is edited, and paints an unfavorable portrait, you might expose yourself to a libel case--an unedited transcript matching tapes you can produce would have the "truthfulness" defense in its favor. Also keep in mind that you cannot use your interview stock to imply that the subject endorses any particular product, service, politician, etc.
posted by Netzapper at 1:23 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Brilliant, you should be a lawyer. Both responders were very helpful. I honestly don't anticipate problems, but the other people involved in the project have asked me for an answer and I wanted to bounce it off of someone, and the hive mind made sense. Thanks!
posted by Ponderance at 6:28 PM on October 18, 2009

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